Union says graduating nurses should be employed in hospitals for two years


THE GOVERNMENT has been urged to include within its jobs initiative to be announced next week a plan to employ graduating nurses on hospital wards for a period of two years.

The plea came yesterday from the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Liam Doran, on the first day of the union’s annual conference in Kilkenny.

He said the vast majority of the 1,600 nurses who graduated last year could not find work in Ireland and the same had happened the year before. Many were emigrating and with the worldwide shortage of nurses there was a danger they would not come back.

“We have 1,600 more graduates coming out next September. We are proposing a graduate placement programme for them as part of the jobs initiative that the Government is to announce; that these people should be retained on a two-year contract . . . to consolidate their skills.”

He pointed out that it would be a cost-effective strategy as new entrants to the public service would be on salaries of 10 per cent less than in previous years. They could be employed on salaries of around €26,000.

The concept of a graduate placement programme for nurses was contained in a report from a commission set up in 2007 to look at reducing nurses’ hours. It recommended that a two-year internship programme be offered to graduating nurses, allowing them gain experience on a smaller salary.

Former minister for health Mary Harney did not entertain the idea, however, stressing last October that saving rather than spending was the priority.

However, Mr Doran said these nurses had to be retained, not least because an estimated 1,200 nurses were expected to retire between now and the end of February next year.

Mr Doran also claimed safe levels of patient care in hospitals and other healthcare settings across the State were being compromised by the moratorium on recruitment in the public sector.

“No one in management is now listening to nurse managers when they speak of their concerns about how care is being compromised. They are just being ignored . . . they are told they have to live within budget.”

He said care was also being compromised by bed closures and continuing overcrowding in hospital emergency departments. There were now 1,776 beds closed across the State and the number of patients on trolleys in emergency departments in the first three months of this year was 16 per cent higher than over the same period last year and 52 per cent higher than in 2006 when Ms Harney declared the problem a national emergency.

He said the health service had also lost 4,100 staff in the last year. About 967 of these were nurses lost under the moratorium.

“Someone is going to have to answer the question, ‘when is this going to stop’?” he said, calling for the introduction of legislation which would guarantee safe nurse-to-patient ratios relevant to the acuity of individual patients, as in Australia.

Anne McGowan told the conference it was not unusual to have just two nurses and one attendant looking after 28 acute medical patients on an evening shift in Sligo General Hospital.

Mary Barrett said she worked in a HSE-run elderly care facility in Galway where there may be only one nurse and one attendant on night duty looking after 30 patients.

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly will address delegates tomorrow. They will be anxious to hear his views on how much student nurses should be paid after the outgoing government cut the remuneration of fourth-year nurses.

Mr Doran said Dr Reilly had committed during the election to review the matter and if he does not carry out the review student nurses would be balloted on industrial action.